Rishabh Pant, Kuldeep Yadav bag INR 5 crore central contracts
Rishabh Pant's exploits in international cricket since his Test debut in England last year have given him a lucrative entrance into BCCI's annual retainers' list. Pant, who was not part of the 26-man list in 2017-18, has been placed in Category A for the 2018-19 season, which carries a retainer worth INR 5 crore.
The contracts, which run from October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019, were approved by the Committee of Administrators, the supervisory authority of BCCI, on Thursday in Delhi.
Grade A is the second-most lucrative retainer, one rung below the A+ grade, which was introduced last year for players that feature in all three formats. The A+ category, worth INR 7 crore, had five players in the previous contract period, but that count has been brought down to three with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shikhar Dhawan being dropped to the A category. The three players to retain their spots in the A+ category are captain Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah.
The A bracket has 11 players compared to seven last year. Three players have also been promoted from B to A: fast bowling pair of Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, along with wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav.
MS Dhoni, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have all retained their spots in the A category. Wriddhiman Saha, who missed out most of 2018 due to injuries and only started playing few weeks back, has been moved from A to C. There were some new entrants too in the C grade - Ambati Rayudu, Hanuma Vihari and Khaleel Ahmed - as Axar Patel, Karun Nair, Suresh Raina, Parthiv Patel and Jayant Yadav were dropped.
Opener M Vijay, who was in the A category last year, has been dropped from the list completely. The overall count of players contracted has also come down from 26 to 25 this year.
Like last year, the final list was prepared by the five-man national selection panel led by MSK Prasad. The selectors have opted to reward players that have taken significant strides in the last year and have been the key performers consistently.
One of those players has been Pant. The 21-year-old has been one of the most improved players on the Indian circuit across formats and is currently auditioning for India's World Cup squad. Picked in place of Saha, who was injured through 2018, Pant cracked a century in his third Test on a debut tour of England. More recently, Pant made 159 against Australia during the New Year's Test in Sydney, having taken 11 catches in the series opener in Adelaide, the most by an Indian wicketkeeper in Tests.
ESPNcricinfo understands Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar were not retained in the A+ category because they did not consistently feature in all three formats last season. Dhawan struggled for form in the Test format on the tours of South Africa and England and was eventually dropped for the Australia tour, with the selectors picking Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal. Bhuvneshwar was injured at the start of the season, and although he was included in the Test squad for Australia, he did not play in the four-match series that India won 2-1.
Two key players, Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul, who were briefly suspended by the CoA for their alleged misconduct on a TV chat show, will continue to be part of Category B (INR 3 crore). On Thursday, the CoA had asked Justice DK Jain, newly-appointed BCCI ombudsman, to probe Pandya and Rahul's alleged misconduct. As per the BCCI constitution, the ombudsman is the final authority to adjudicate on such issues.
Pandya is not part of the ongoing ODI series against Australia due to a back injury, but his stocks have gradually increased over the last 18 months with the management backing him to play in all three formats as the primary allrounder.
Among the players that missed the cut were Shaw, Agarwal and Vijay Shankar. Shaw made his India debut with an effervescent Test century against West Indies last year and was part of the Test squad for the Australia tour, but was forced to return home due to a freak injury while fielding during the warm-up match. Agarwal, too, has made a strong start to his international career, while Vijay, who helped India clinch a thrilling last-over victory with the ball in the Nagpur ODI against Australia earlier this week, has given healthy headaches to the selection panel, which has put him in the pool of 18-odd players shortlisted for the World Cup.
Women's retainers: Poonam Yadav gets Category A contract
Legspinner Poonam Yadav has been rewarded with a Category A contract, worth a retainer of INR 50 lakh, following her standout performances in 2018. Poonam was the highest wicket-taker in T20Is in 2018, and the joint-highest wicket-taker in ODIs. She joins Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, and Smriti Mandhana in the category, while the experienced Jhulan Goswami has been moved from A down to B (INR 30 lakh) for the 2018-19 season.
The other notable movement up in BCCI's annual player retainership for women is that of Jemimah Rodrigues, who broke into the national team in 2018. She has moved up from C (INR 10 lakh) into B. She joins Ekta Bisht, Shikha Pandey and Deepti Sharma, who have retained their places in the category.
Middle-order batsman Veda Krishnamurthy, who finished 2018 with ten consecutive single-digit scores across formats, has been pushed down to C, along with left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo